For this month's Readers' Review: "Drown" -- the debut collection of short stories by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Junot Diaz. Twenty years ago, Diaz published ten heart-breaking tales about a fragmented family from the Dominican Republic finding their way in 1980s America.
Presidential advisers recommend the NSA not be allowed to collect and store Americans’ phone data. The Senate approves a two-year budget deal. And outgoing Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke says the stimulus program will gradually end next year. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- John Dickerson chief political correspondent for Slate.com and CBS political analyst and contributor. Author of "On Her Trail: My Mother, Nancy Dickerson, TV News' First Woman Star."
- Ari Shapiro White House correspondent, NPR.
- Susan Page Washington bureau chief, USA Today.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is stepping down after his term ends in January 2014. John Dickerson of Slate said Bernanke was seen by many as responsible for staving off another Great Depression through his creative use of new economic tools, such as quantitative easing. “He came in [to the position] as a kind of academic and leaves as…a kind of very sharp operator,” Dickerson said.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The Senate passes a Pentagon bill that addresses sexual assault in the military. The White House relaxes a rule on enrolling for healthcare coverage days before an important deadline. And outgoing Fed chair Ben Bernanke says the stimulus program will gradually end next year.
MS. DIANE REHMHere for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup: Ari Shapiro of NPR, Susan Page of USA Today, and John Dickerson of Slate and CBS. I look forward to hearing from all of you. Join us, 800-433-8850. Send us email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Hi there, everybody. And welcome.
MR. ARI SHAPIROGood morning.
MS. SUSAN PAGEGood morning.
MR. JOHN DICKERSONGood morning.
REHMGood to see you all. Ari Shapiro, this is going to be your last appearance. You're moving to London.
SHAPIROI am. I'll miss you, Diane.
REHMWell, I'll miss you as well, but I'll enjoy hearing your reports from London.
REHMHarry Reid was threatening to keep senators here in D.C. until the holidays. This morning, he ends up in the hospital, but the compromise has already been reached, Susan.
PAGEWe think so. We don't think -- we're, of course, concerned about Sen. Reid and hope he's doing all right. But there is an arrangement that's been reached by the Senate to confirm a couple people before they head out and to do the big confirmation of Janet Yellen to head the Federal Reserve on Jan. 6 when they come back. So that prospect of having the Senate meet on Christmas Eve is one that seems to have been done away with.
REHMAnd the Pentagon bill, tell me what's in it, John Dickerson.
DICKERSONWell, the Pentagon bill will -- this is basically the big funding bill for the Pentagon. It was the last piece of appropriations business that they were trying to get done in addition to these questions of these nominees which -- overlaying all of this is the fight over two things that are irritating Republicans. One is the change in the filibuster rules which they're still angry about. The Pentagon business is kind of something everybody had agreed on. But on these -- or largely agreed on.
DICKERSONBut on these questions of the nominees, it was not only the still the rancor that continues after the fight over the filibuster, but also this feeling among Republicans that Reid has not allowed enough amendments on various bills. And so that's what's still unresolved and will remain well into next year.
REHMThere is this question about retirement pay for members of the military, also the question about Janet Yellen's confirmation, Ari.
SHAPIROYeah. On retirement pay, the small scale budget deal that undoes some of the deep cuts for the sequester makes up for that money in part by cutting back on the retirement pay of retired military personnel who are under a certain age. And there are some Republicans who said that is violating the promise that this country makes to those people, that you serve your time, and then we take care of you.
SHAPIROSo there was a little bit of pushback to that, even though the deal ultimately passed. And then on Janet Yellen, the real pushback comes from Rand Paul who says, unless there is an audit of the Fed -- some things father Ron Paul talked a lot about -- he was going to obstruct the Yellen confirmation insisting on hours and hours of debate on her confirmation. It's not clear now that they've reached this deal to push her vote to Jan. 6, or after the Senate reconvenes on Jan. 6 anyway, what that does.
REHMAnd go ahead, John.
DICKERSONIt's just one interesting thing about military pay is that that idea of -- basically, it's the cost-of-living adjustments for military pay. Instead of doing them along the way, they've kind of stuffed them all till after age 62. What's interesting about this to me is that, under the Simpson-Bowles plan -- you remember that -- this is the big deficit reduction plan that everybody sort of said they were supporting.
DICKERSONThere was a much more rigorous version of this cost-of-living change that would have hit veterans even harder -- same function basically of back loading the cost-of-living adjustments. And you remember that everybody used to say that they liked the Simpson-Bowles plan as a way to trade off these spending and tax increases.
DICKERSONBut a lot of those same people don't like this cost-of-living adjustment. So what's the point here? It's that this is how difficult it is to even get a tiny deal, that when you get into the details -- and this, again, this budget agreement was very small given the breadth of issues we have to face. When it gets to the details, there's always something that sticks. And so this is a perfect example of that here now in this recent budget agreement.
REHMSo is this budget agreement finally going to alleviate any of the gridlock, Susan?
PAGEIt doesn't -- you know, it doesn't undo gridlock. It is, though, I think, one promising step that we're going into Christmas, and we're not going to stay up because we've got some fiscal showdown that's pending that we -- that they were at least able to make a small deal. Maybe it's one of those things like a muscle they haven't used in a while, so they use it on reaching a small budget deal. Maybe they can then use it to pass this Farm Bill which has been stalled for more than a year.
PAGEIt's hard to believe this opens the door to some big compromise on something like immigration. But I think it is a baby step in the right direction.
DICKERSONThere is such a long list of important things that this budget deal did not tackle. It's about the smallest thing they could possibly do and still call a budget deal. But one important detail is that the one reason there's been so much gridlock is that John Boehner, the House speaker, had a really hard time standing up to his right wing, standing up to the outside groups. This budget deal is one instance where we saw Boehner really almost snap at these outside groups, saying, they are harming the party.
DICKERSONAnd in sort of, you know, one instance after another over the last couple weeks, we've seen the institutional mainstream Republican Party saying, we are no longer going to be led by the outside groups, the Tea Party wing, and if anything looks like a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel for bigger deals in the future, I think that may be it.
PAGEThat may be it, but you have -- but it's also true that seven of the 12 Republican senators who were up for reelection are facing Tea Party challengers in their primaries. And so I just -- I wonder if this is something that is going to -- the willingness to push back against the Tea Party...
PAGE...which has provided so much energy for the Republican Tea Party is something they're going to be willing to do when they get into the campaign year next year.
DICKERSONWhether those who are really up for -- in peril. Boehner's not in so much in peril. But the ones who are will be too chicken to do it. I should add one other thing on that that I glossed over on the defense bill is that, in addition to a small increase in pay, there was this important sexual assault portion of that bill.
DICKERSONAnd so there's been a big, huge debate among -- and the most interesting one has been among Democratic senators. But now, basically, the changes in the sexual assault -- the way those are handled is commanders will no longer be able to basically throw aside jury verdict. Victims will get legal counsel. And there's also a civilian review if a commander declines to prosecute.
DICKERSONThe whole notion being basically that the military was investigating itself and that there's always a conflict there when you have higher-ups investigating higher-ups, that they don't do a legitimate job. So this was an attempt to try and strike that balance between the civilian system and the military system, and that was also worked into this bill.
REHMAll right. But what happens if a male or a female goes to his, her commanding officer and says, I have been sexually assaulted? It's still up to that person as to whether to go forward with it.
PAGEThis does not include those -- the tougher provisions that Sen. Gillibrand has been pushing. But she says she has been promised a vote on her approach in the New Year. So this is an issue that's not going away. Again, it's like -- it may be like with the budget deal. It's a step that addresses some of the concerns, but not all of them.
REHMBut not all. Yeah.
PAGEIt's not an issue, I think, that is done.
REHMAnd what about the debt ceiling? Is there going to be an argument over that, John?
DICKERSONYeah. I mean, this deal that they've reached funds the federal government. But it does not really say anything about raising the debt ceiling. Republicans say it's not a conversation they've had, but they plan to get something, extract some concession out of raising the debt ceiling next year. And the White House again says there will be no concessions, there will be no debating over the debt ceiling. So it's really the same battle lines that we've been seeing for the last few years.
PAGEYou're so much smarter than I that I hesitate to disagree with you. But I do think it's a different landscape. It's the same fight, right? Republicans say they want something. White House says, we're not going to bargain. Republicans had such a searing experience with the government shutdown that if the White House holds for them as they did last time, it seems to me Republicans are not prepared to kind of go nuclear on this issue. Although who knows?
SHAPIROWell, and to our previous conversation, the question is those who are on the battle lines, those senators with Tea Party challenges, those members of Congress that John Boehner was pointing at when he exploded, are in a tiny bit of a mood to maybe push back and whether they -- it may not actually have any real implications for the real world. But there will be an interesting interparty Republican dance around that that may tell us something about how that landscape is changing and shifting.
DICKERSONYou know, the fact that the last time the debt ceiling debate happened, it led to the government shutdown and in what was in every respect, almost, a terrible year for President Obama. The government shutdown was, in a strange sense, a ray of light for him. It might not have been good for the country, but the president came out of it looking like a leader, looking like the grownup in the room.
DICKERSONRepublicans came out of it terribly damaged. And that would probably still be the dynamic if not for healthcare.gov. Point being, I think you're exactly right, Susan, that Republicans have in a sense learned their lesson. They're not going to shut down the government again. That's not really a threat because they have now funded the government, but the same kind of standoff over threatening to default on the nation's debts. I think Republicans sort of were burned this year and learned their lesson.
PAGEYou know, one other thing that we've learned from the government shutdown, I totally agree that it was catastrophic for the Republicans and good for the president. Lots of concern it would be bad for the president if it hurt the economy. But now we have new growth numbers for the third quarter out today that show growing at, I think, 4.1 percent, better than we thought. So the government shutdown apparently had no -- so far as we can tell, it didn't have an impact on the economy either, so in that way a total win-win for the president.
SHAPIROOK. So what's so funny about this 4.1 percent economic growth higher than expectations is that if you listened to the rhetoric from both sides over the last year, you had the White House saying, the deep cuts of sequestration are going to harm economic growth. You had Republicans saying, this healthcare law is going to harm economic growth. And, look, maybe growth would have been even higher than 4.1 percent if either of these things had not happened, but it's really hard to make that argument when the numbers come in higher than anybody expected.
DICKERSONWe're consuming the way we're -- you know, Americans, two-thirds of our GDP is determined by consumption. And these numbers who that we're consuming even better than we have before. I believe the U.S. is the leader in the world in that. The problem though still wages.
REHMJohn Dickerson, chief political correspondent for Slate and CBS political analyst and contributor. Short break here. When we come back, we'll talk about the Affordable Care Act and more.
REHMAnd here with me for the final Friday News Roundup of 2013: Susan Page of USA Today, John Dickerson of CBS and Slate, and Ari Shapiro. He's White House correspondent for NPR, but he starts a new position as London correspondent for NPR in 2014. So all of you can wish Ari well. And let's talk about the Affordable Care Act. John Dickerson, a surprise move by the Obama Administration to relax the healthcare laws?
DICKERSONRight. This is yet another 11th hour change. And it's very hard to keep up with all of the different changes. So what is this one? This is for -- this is a delay in the individual mandate. Now that is particularly important because it's for a small group, but the individual mandate is one of the important forcing mechanisms that was supposed to get people to sign up, have a little penalty if you didn't sign up because getting people to sign up is crucial for the health of the law because you need certain kinds of people and lots of them to allow the insurance pools to spread the risk in a certain way.
DICKERSONSo what happens is the one-year mandate has been delayed for those who are losing insurance that they already had. So that's different than the various other kinds of people who would be signing up. But Republicans will naturally ask, well, if you're going to exempt the people who already have insurance, why do the people who don't have insurance, why will they face the individual mandate?
DICKERSONAnd just to remind you of some of the other delays, there is of course the small business delay in being able to use the website. There was the large employer mandate that was delayed for a year that happened around July. And then there was also the fix for the same people in the individual market that were told you can keep your plan if you don't want to. And that promise didn't turn out to be true. They are allowed to keep that plan for a year if they would like. So this is just another of these last-minute fixes trying to keep this thing going.
REHMAnd, Ari, here's the email we got from Michael. "Is the president's relaxing of the rules in a piecemeal way an attempt to avoid the obvious, that Republicans in Congress who wanted to delay the law a year were correct?"
SHAPIROWell, there are certainly all kinds of problems that have needed to be fixed. And you can argue that the best way to fix those problems is in a piecemeal way, like the president and the White House are doing or the way the Republicans proposed, delaying everything for a year. I think the fear of...
REHMOr eliminating or defunding.
SHAPIRO...or eliminate the laws as Republicans wanted to do, I should say. There was one other delay on top of all the ones that John mentioned. This week the White House said that if people sign up for coverage in order to get coverage starting Jan. 1 but they haven't paid by the Dec. 23 deadline, they can actually still get coverage as long as they pay by Jan. 10. It's so much tinkering. And you still have to sign up by Dec. 23, but you don't have to pay by then.
SHAPIROThe White House had planned to have three full months of robust enrollment. They were expecting a last-minute burst, of course. So much of that first three months, at least it seems like half of it, people just could not enroll even if they wanted to. Now we appear to be seeing this last-minute burst but there are questions still about the back end, whether the information can get to the insurance companies about the people who've signed up. So left, right and center we're seeing all kinds of little tweaks.
PAGEI think there are two problems with what's happened. One is the perception that this is a law that just isn't working, that they have to keep doing all these fixes. The law itself is complicated enough. Just understanding the fixes and who qualifies for various exemptions is a hard thing. The other is substantive, which is the Affordable Care Act is based on the idea of a grand bargain that everyone has to sign up so that people with preexisting conditions can be covered.
PAGEAnd the law -- that does not work to do it in a piecemeal way. And the insurance companies are certainly extremely alarmed that kind of their side of it that they're getting undermined because they're going to continue to have to take everybody who signs up.
PAGEThey've set rates based on the assumption that there was going to be near universal coverage. And now various groups are being exempted from having to do that. And the groups that are not going to be signing up are being exempted are generally the healthier younger people who are kind of the lynch pin to making the system feasible.
DICKERSONAnd the question is for those younger people. The downside is that they see all of this tinkering going on with the law and they think, do I really need to sign up because basically I'm going to get -- something's going to happen and I'm going to get out of it in the end. So that it undermines the -- again, in these forcing mechanisms there were supposed to be efforts to kind of push younger people in, which is crucial for the health of these risk pools. All of this tinkering suggests that you may not get penalized really if you don't sign up.
DICKERSONThe upside for the White House on that front though is that it turns out if you look at the polling, not that many people have been paying attention to all of this stuff. So the White House can hope that those younger voters they're trying so desperately to reach out to -- or those younger Americans haven't just been paying attention to all of these delays.
REHMJohn writes on our website, "Where's the outrage and the press regarding the president's changing of all these ACA deadlines?"
PAGEI think it'd be hard to say that the press has given Obama a free ride on the Affordable Care Act.
PAGEI mean, I think the commentary has been pretty scathing and the coverage of even things like the polling, which all of our organizations have done recently that shows it.
REHMBut the website is working now.
PAGEThe website is now working, that's correct -- the front part of the website.
PAGEWe have mixed reports on whether the backside of the website going from the -- to the insurance companies is working well. And that's going to be perhaps the next big test.
REHMAnd what about Kurt DelBene the White House choice to head HealthCare.gov?
SHAPIRORight. So you remember that when the website debuted in such a catastrophic way, the White House appointed Jeffrey Zients to sort of ride herd on getting all of these hundreds of problems fixed. He was scheduled to go over to head the president's economic team. And so as he leaves this job running HealthCare.gov, this former Microsoft executive who spent 20 years at Microsoft most recently running Office -- you know, Microsoft Word and Excel and all of that -- is going to come over and just spend sort of 24/7 working on the website as Jeffrey Zients did.
SHAPIROAnd people say, well this is an obvious need in the same way that you don't just set up Facebook and let it run on its own. You need somebody to run the website. That raises the obvious question then, why didn't they plan for this in advance? This is a new job they're creating. They're not sure whether it will continue forever. It just feels very haphazard.
REHMAnd why -- how do you answer that question, Ari? Why didn't they have somebody up front? How does any of you answer that question?
SHAPIROHonestly, I would love to hear a good answer to this question. I've been unable to get one.
PAGEIt seems -- it does seem inexplicable. And it is, I think, a question that Kathleen Sebelius has faced in a very critical way. But it also goes to President Obama. This is his signature legislative initiative. How could this not have been handled in a different way when they -- after the law was passed three-and-a-half years ago?
DICKERSONThat's exactly right. I think one of the things in trying to unpack the problems here is that if you'd brought in a Zients or a DelBene, they wouldn't, before the election, have had the kind of free range they have now to get things done for two reasons. One, the White House and the political operation was being so careful to not do anything that would cause political harm for the president's reelection, both real problems they might've encountered and imagined ones because they knew the Republicans were going to seek any opportunity.
DICKERSONIf you are a person trying to run something and get things done quickly in that environment, it's deadly. So you -- I'm not sure you could've had such a person come in. Also when it's an emergency situation, as it has been since the launch pad crash of the website, people are moving a lot faster. And you can get government to operate at something approaching the level of speed that you would have in the private sector.
REHMDo you think you're going to see some changes in procurement throughout government as a result?
SHAPIROOh yeah, President Obama has explicitly said that one of the root causes of this problem was how totally dysfunctional the government IT procurement process is that gets the innovators sort of unable to get the big contracts and the big lumbersome, old-fashioned companies get a leg up. And so he has said this is one of the most important things he has to change. It might be too late to fix HealthCare.gov, but in the future it'll make a difference.
PAGEHere's one other factor that may have contributed to the administration mishandling this from the start, which is they did not anticipate having to run a federal exchange of this size. The plan was for states to have state exchanges that would, you know, be smaller enterprises and more suited to a particular state.
PAGEAnd while Republicans have failed in their attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Republican governors have succeeded, by and large, with a couple exceptions, in pushing the exchange effort back to the federal government, which made it a bigger job than they thought they were going to have.
SHAPIROBut look at the State of Oregon, which so strongly supported this healthcare law. They set up their own exchange run by a big tech company with a great reputation. It has been a worse debacle than the federal HealthCare.gov website. They're signing people up with pen and paper.
PAGEBut look at Kentucky, for instance, where things are going well. And California's had some problems but is signing up an enormous number of people. So, you know, we'll see. We knew from the start this was a huge transformation in the way the American healthcare system worked. We knew there would be glitches and problems. We just didn't know quite how flawed this rollout would be starting in October.
REHMAll right. And, Susan, let's talk about the panel that went in to talk to the president yesterday, calling for changes in data gathering in the NSA practices. Which of these is likely to be implemented?
PAGEI think several of them are likely to be implemented. I think -- we don't know for sure. I think it's something the White House says the president will take to Hawaii when he goes there this afternoon on a Christmas vacation. But I do think we're into a -- we've entered a kind of post-9/11 period -- or the post-post-9/11 period...
PAGE...where we're willing to reexamine some of the things that were done in the name of security after the Sept. 11 attacks. Because you saw it on several fronts this week. You saw a federal judge here in Washington say it was likely unconstitutional, this gathering of metadata. You had these outside advisors come in and propose really extensive changes in the way the NSA works.
PAGEYou also had the president meeting with tech executives. I think he preferred to talk about the Affordable Care Act. They prefer to talk about the damage that's been done in terms of business around the world by some of...
PAGE...and trust by some of the actions the NSA has taken.
DICKERSONAnd the worry for them, of course, is that their consumers won't have trust in them because they think either they're in cahoots with the government or the government can just get consumer information through those companies. And that's the business concern for those tech executives.
DICKERSONMichael Carly had a great piece in Time about how the president who came in as almost a caretaker of George W. Bush's national security policy, surging in Afghanistan continuing if not, well, amping up the drone program, continuing NSA surveillance or allowing it at least to run rampant underneath him is now quietly changing -- not quietly but slowly changing those things in Afghanistan.
DICKERSONThe drone program has been pulled back. And then we'll see in response to this -- to the report -- the 303-page report with 46 different recommendations from his panel on national security, how much of that he embraces, kind of putting back into the box a lot of what came springing out in response to 9/11 as a kind of -- and that was one of the most interesting things about that report was that it basically suggested that we're in a new stage now and therefore don't necessarily need everything that's so invasive and, more importantly, that a lot of these invasive procedures haven't been that effective.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And in the midst of this NSA data gathering discussion, you have Target in the midst of this Christmas shopping season having 40 million purchases or interactions collected.
SHAPIRORight. Well, it just goes to underscore the fact that the government is not our only privacy concern in this world.
SHAPIROYou know, as much information as the NSA is gathering, well, Google and Facebook are probably gathering just as much, let along private companies where we swipe our credit cards.
REHMAnd I don't understand why the Secret Service got into that one, do you? Secret Service is investigating what happened at Target.
PAGEDoes the Secret Service traditionally do currency things like counterfeiting?
PAGESo perhaps that's the way.
REHMYeah, yeah. All right.
DICKERSONYou know, just looking at these NSA recommendations, there is such an interesting arc to President Obama's story here where, as a senator and a candidate in 2008, he ran sort of the constitution lawyer, the civil libertarian, the anti-Bush. Then when he took office, he really, as John said, adopted many of these programs. You could say he was co-opted by the intelligence community. You could say he saw the intelligence reports and thought these were necessary.
DICKERSONThen in May he gave this really important speech at the National Defense University where he said, we can't be on perpetual wartime footing. That coincided almost exactly with the Edward Snowden revelations, which of course led to this report. And now you have cover for President Obama, if he wants to, to take the recommendations of this panel and draw back America's buying authority in a way that we have not seen since 9/11.
PAGENow one thing we saw President Bush do -- President George W. Bush, at the end of his term try to tweak some of the things he had done so they would continue. You know, he tried to take care of some things that had been most controversial, I think, in the hopes that they wouldn't be overturned but would be adopted.
PAGEAnd I wonder if President Obama has a similar opportunity here. A second-term president, this is an area he's dealt a lot with. It's something he cared about before he became president. And opportunity, kind of a moment to consider, where is the balance between security and privacy? And, you know, we talk a lot about legacies when a president gets into his second term. This is, I think, a real opportunity for him.
SHAPIROWell, and there's also a sense of every president trusts himself to use power in a responsible way, but they don't necessarily trust their successor to do so.
REHMAnd, speaking of legacy, how do you see Ben Bernanke's legacy, John Dickerson?
DICKERSONWell, I mean, so he came into this job as a kind of -- as an academic who happened to have an expertise in the depression. And so that was good news. But he came in as kind of an academic and he leaves as if -- just if you look at the pictures of him when he came and left, he leaves as a kind of very sharp operator who learned about how to communicate in public after a few rocky statements at the beginning of his tenure.
DICKERSONBut basically, the most important thing he did is about five years ago in the depths of the crisis, he found new tools that the Fed could use to basically pump -- and its money-printing capabilities -- to pump money into the economy in these various markets that a lot of people think basically staved off another Great Depression.
DICKERSONNow that will be debated, but the notion of quantitative easing and pumping money into the economy, keeping rates very low, which we saw this week now, some gentle, gentle moving away from that policy. But that long and extended policy a lot of people credit with keeping -- with, A, being very creative and, B, keeping the economy from completely cratering.
PAGEAnd I think people who know more about this than I do really credit him with providing both a steady hand at a time when we were in fiscal financial crisis and also being -- turning out to be unexpectedly a great experimenter. I mean, the Fed tried this. And then they tried that, and then they tried this. And some of them didn't work, and they didn't do them very long.
PAGEAnd -- but it was -- but some of them did help. And so we come out of this great recession not with huge economic growth. Obviously unemployment is still too high, and we want stronger growth. But we come out of it OK. And compared to the rest of the world in the wake of this financial crisis, we look pretty good.
DICKERSONTo Susan's point about his being an innovator, there was this great quote in a marketplace story about Bernanke's legacy where an economist named Beth Ann Bovino says, each time markets felt that the Fed was out of bullets, Bernanke would pull out a bazooka.
REHMAnd that was his last press conference. How is Janet Yellen likely to change things?
SHAPIROWell, I think this -- Bernanke's decision to start tapering, you know, like scale back on this is a path forward for Janet Yellen. She is seen as continuing the Bernanke path. He's now laid out a very clear path for her.
REHMAri Shapiro of NPR. When we come back, we'll open the phones. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMAnd it's time to open the phones. Your questions, comments for John Dickerson of Slate and CBS, Susan Page of USA Today, Ari Shapiro of NPR. Let's go first to William in Hamilton, Ohio. You're on the air.
WILLIAMOn the Affordable Care Act, I've asked a bunch of my friends and coworkers about it, and they have a negative opinion. When I ask them why, they told me that they've heard that the Affordable Care Act is bad on the various aspects such as staying on your parent's insurance or allowing people with preexisting conditions to get insurance, everybody seems overwhelmingly positive about those aspects.
WILLIAMAnd when they ask them about the negatives, they bring up things like death panels, forced microchip implantation or the government getting access to their bank accounts. And is there any polling that asks people what it is they don't like about the Affordable Care Act? Because it seems like everybody is in favor of the different aspects of it.
PAGEWilliam, I really think you should be calling the White House switchboard with this comment because it is one of the mysteries and one of the most confounding things for the administration that you ask about the Affordable Care Act. Or especially if you ask and poll about what you think of Obamacare, majority of Americans think it was a bad idea. But you ask about some of those very specific provisions that you mentioned, and they are overwhelmingly popular.
PAGEAnd surely in the past 3 1/2 years, this should have been explained to people so that they understand the provisions of this. And when -- to your very specific question about what do people say they don't like about the Affordable Care Act, I think the number one thing we find in our polling is that they don't like the idea of a very powerful government. Government too big, government too powerful, government doing things that maybe they won't do well which, by the way, the rollout of the website has proved them right.
SHAPIROThe White House knew that it lost the messaging wars in the first couple of years after the law passed and they decided rather than try to fight those battles, they were going to wait until the law was actually in effect. And the website came on board and people saw how easy and convenient it was and they experienced firsthand the joys of signing up for healthcare under this new law. Well, that's not how it went.
DICKERSONHere's a problem, though, with this is that the easiness and convenience of the website, should that ever fully come into full flower, affects one set of people, the people who don't have insurance, who have insurance in the private market. The people who are worried and a lot of whom vote are people who have insurance through their employer who've been battered about as insurance changes had been made but aren't going to intersect with the website or the program at all.
DICKERSONAnd for them the worry is, my healthcare isn't perfect, but it's going to get a whole lot worse because of this big lumbering thing that was created. And then what starts to happen -- and this is for the White House -- is premiums are going up not because of the Affordable Care Act but for other reasons.
DICKERSONDoctors are opting of certain kinds of plans maybe because partially of the Affordable Care Act but also because it just changes in the healthcare plan. But now the Affordable Care Act is getting every bad piece of health news stuck to it, and that is only going to be a harder messaging problem for the White House.
REHMAll right to Memphis, Tenn. Hi, Mike.
MIKEHello, Diane. Thank you for having my call.
MIKEFirst off, I want to tell you that I've just recently discovered you because you're not on in Memphis. In my trips to Arkansas, I've been rewarded with your show, and I really love it when you ask the question no other interviewer asks when you say, what do you mean by that?
MIKEThat stops them all in their tracks. I would say about the Obamacare question that it seems that nobody really wants to say that it appears to be the concerted efforts by, say, the conservatives or the Republicans or whoever to actually block the act. All those Republican-run states that turn down membership in it and now all the disinformation that was given, I hesitate to use the word lies, but what else can you say about death panels and things like that?
MIKEBut the reason I called was when we were earlier talking about the new deal, the budget where we're not going to have to worry about a shutdown and you mentioned, but of course the Republicans are going to want a deal on the debt ceiling. I don't think that should be glossed over. To me, that is holding a gun to the public's head, and I don't think that can be excused. I think that ought to be shouted from the mountain tops by every responsible American. How can this be excused by anyone? That is the worst thing anybody has ever done to our country.
SHAPIROThanks for calling, Mike. What do you think that's the White House line that we've been hearing and we'll continue to hear if Republicans keep saying we need concessions over raising the debt ceiling. There is a counter-argument that concessions have often been made over the debt ceiling in the past but rarely with the very real threat of defaulting on the nation's debts, which although Republicans seems serious about, we should acknowledge, never actually happened. There always was some last-minute save. But so last minute that it degraded the U.S. credit rating in 2011.
PAGEI had suggested that our first caller William call the White House, I would suggest that Mike call the Memphis NPR station and say, why aren't you taking "The Diane Rehm Show"? Why do I have to drive to Arkansas to hear it?
DICKERSONOne thing about the debt ceiling fight that will be interesting is Republicans want to have a debate if for no other reason than to just say, look, the debt and deficit are still a problem. Yes, short-term debt has come down but we still have these long-term fiscal issues that we have to take care of. The problem is, there's no more money in the discretionary portion of the budget to squeeze out that you could get as a part of a debt ceiling bill.
DICKERSONOne example is that a long-term on insurance employment is about to disappear at the end of this year affecting 1.3 million people. That was not a part of this budget deal because John Boehner said -- well, there may be a variety of reasons -- but John Boehner said, I'm happy to extend it if you can find 25 billion in savings to offset it. They were barely able to find the savings as part of this tiny little deal. There's just not a lot of money to find in saving that everybody can agree on.
REHMAll right, to Olivia in Louisville, Ky. Hi there.
OLIVIAHi, Diane. Thank you so much for taking my call.
OLIVIAWe've enjoyed listening to your special this week on the Ryan-Murray budget. My spouse is an active duty soldier and I have listened over the week to discuss -- hearing people discuss how these are small cuts to our retirement. But I just think that it's important for the listeners and for everyone to understand that these small cuts that have continued to happen over and over are not just about our retirement.
OLIVIAAs a military spouse, we were stationed overseas and watched as your small cuts affected mission readiness. We lost clinic hours. We lost whole clinics. We dealt with shortened school weeks in our Department of Defense schools. We watched as our fellow employee, like, were furloughed because there just wasn't any money because of these small cuts.
OLIVIAAnd I just want people to talk about the fact, where is the balance between saving money and getting a deal through and our mission readiness for our country, especially as we're watching as these small cuts are going to contribute to our force being sized down so greatly in the coming years. So I'll take my comments off the air. Just wanted you to realize these are not small cuts (unintelligible).
REHMAll right. Thanks. Thanks for calling, Olivia. What do you think, Ari?
SHAPIROWell, you know, I was recently meeting with a group of judges who were saying the exact same thing about the federal judiciary and the small cuts to the federal judiciary. If you go to Head Start or soup kitchen programs, they'll say the same thing about these cuts to those programs. No matter where you cut, you are cutting from something or someone. And until you take on these big structural deficit drivers, we're going to see more and more of these small cuts in an effort to control long-term debts and deficits.
PAGEYou know, everybody has a powerful story, including judges, but certainly none as more powerful than hearing from people like Olivia who's serving our country and her husband in the active duty military. So I think, Olivia, thanks very much for your service.
REHMI should say.
PAGEAnd I think this is an argument that they are really hearing on the Hill, which is one reason why we think that provision of this particular small deal may well be fixed early in the year.
REHMAnd to Michael in Richmond, Va. Hi there.
REHMGood to have you with us. Go right ahead.
MICHAELI just wanted to say you're a national treasure. It's my birthday, and this really made my birthday.
MICHAELThank you. Earlier, it was mentioned that Rand Paul is threatening to engage in a long debate who the next nominee of the Federal Reserve, chairman of the Federal Reserve because he wanted there to be an audit at the Federal Reserve. And I was curious what he hopes to glean from such an audit.
DICKERSONWell, I think -- I think what he hopes to glean is some kind of understanding of all of the creative activity that goes on to manipulate the economy that is done by basically a non-elected group of people in secret that's opaque and that you can have an institution that affects the economy this much and have it be kind of all worked out on the fly and without the people's representatives having any kind of at least even view into what's going on.
DICKERSONAnd so I think at the very least he's hoping for just a look at the activities in a more transparent way so that policymakers can make judgments about what's going on as opposed to being told sort of, don't worry, we've got it under control.
REHMBut is it really going to happen?
DICKERSONI don't know.
PAGEWell, I think he may well get a vote on -- well, he'll...
REHMHe'll get a vote on it.
PAGE...vote on the idea of auditing. But the reality is, one of the things Ben Bernanke has done has made the Fed somewhat more transparent than it had been and perhaps that is a trend that might continue.
REHMAll right, to David in Carleton, Mich. You're on the air.
DAVIDHi, Diane. Thanks very much for taking my call.
DAVIDI'm a longtime listener, first time caller.
REHMGlad to have you.
DAVIDLove the show.
DAVIDAnd I would like to know, I've listened to your show down for the past couple of weeks, and it really bothers me all these people talking about how the Republican Party is worried about our budget in the country. But they didn't have a problem shutting our country down and spending, you know, millions and millions of dollars to pay back pay and losing millions of dollars from the park services and all the other branches of the government that lost money during that time.
DAVIDThey're so interested in saving their budget. Why don't they just vote on taking a pay cut and they'll make some of their money to helping the country instead of taking money from the other people or trying to discourage other people from joining Obamacare or any other programs, you know, people that don't make money?
REHMThanks for calling. And I think the actual cost to that shutdown was estimated at something like $18 billion?
DICKERSONEither $24 billion in lost economic activity. And then also there was another analysis that said that it was -- that it had cost a significant number of jobs as well during that period. But that sentiment that what was just expressed is one of the reasons Republicans are not anxious to walk into another shutdown fight or anything that even approaches that because it's not only the damage that is done.
DICKERSONBut even if people don't hear about the damage that is done from the shutdown or the brinksmanship that leads to the shutdown, the conversation has nothing to do with their lives. And so when they see one party engaged in a lot of conversation that seems to be very distant from the things they need in their lives, which is trying to increase wages, deal with the healthcare and whatever the problems are that they're having with it, it doesn't help a party.
REHMAll right. And to Frank in Charlotte, N.C. Your turn.
FRANKOh, OK. So anyway, I have a question and a comment.
FRANKOK. Why don't we audit the $6 billion that our military gets that the American people do -- because I've worked in it for many years -- get ripped off? OK. And the thing about healthcare, I feel that the media has beating the president's poll numbers down, OK? And I'm really getting tired of this because healthcare is helping many a people. It's going to give people the opportunity for them to save their life and their children's lives.
REHMAll right, Frank.
FRANKYou know, why can't we rejoice about that?
REHMThanks for calling.
SHAPIROAs far as the media beating the president's poll numbers down, I think the president in his last news conference disagreed. He said, we screwed up. We deserve this hit. He said, two big fumbles in an important game, this is on me, this is on us, he said. So I don't think the president sees it as the media spinning the narrative. I think he sees it as they screwed up.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To Tina in Pensacola, Fla. You're on the air.
TINAGood morning. I wanted to say that the mentality of this country right now on the budget, everybody says we're spending too much money and cut, cut, cut, but don't touch mine. Thank you.
REHMThat was short and sweet. But Tina is right, Susan.
PAGEWell, that's right. And, you know, if we're going to address these big issues that we keep saying are being avoided, which would be curtailing the cost of some of these entitlement programs like Medicare and getting more revenue by probably raising taxes on the better-to-do Americans, they have to be done. That does hurt some people. That does annoy some people. It's against the interest of some people. But you can't get a deal that deals with big problems without doing some big things.
REHMHow likely are we to get any tax hikes during an election year, John Dickerson?
DICKERSONYou're not going to get any tax hikes in the marginal rates of taxation. There is the tiniest possibility, if there is any at all, that you -- not just -- the words barely come out of my mouth -- that you might get some tinkering with tax expenditures, which are basically loop holes in the tax code, that go to benefit special people here and there. The problem is the people, the special people here and there who have those benefits in the tax code have lots of lobbyists.
DICKERSONAnd those lobbyists and special interest have a role, you know, play a role in the legislative process and also those are called tax increases even though they're different than marginal rate increases and that causes a political problem for people up for election.
SHAPIROAnd another thing you might see, which is a tax hike by a different is a fee hike. In this budget deal there was a fee hike on airline tickets. Republicans can get away with saying we haven't raised taxes, we've just raised fees. It amounts to the same thing, but it's a little more politically palatable.
PAGEYou know, I don't -- there's a rhythm to our politics, and the rhythm does not allow for tax hikes in an election year. It's the kind of thing you do in an off year and a hard thing to do. So, therefore, it's hard to see -- for me, it's hard to see a big tax deal for the next -- not just the next year, the next three years. I think it's something that goes to the next administration.
REHMWhat's been the best thing for each of you, as reporters, that's happened this year, either personally or as news people?
SHAPIROAs a reporter, going on President Obama's trip to Africa, to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania was a moment away from the sort of repetitive gridlock of Washington into some really interesting issues, people and regions that are not often covered on our air.
PAGEWe launched a new series this year called Capital Download which is a weekly newsmaker video interview which I've been doing. We've done 50 of them this year. It's been -- it kind of stretched me a little, something I didn't -- wasn't used to doing. I've enjoyed it a lot. And I think that's been the highlight of this year for me.
REHMAnd you've been doing a lot more television, I must say. And you, John Dickerson.
DICKERSONI had to read three histories all at the same time for some work I did on "Face the Nation," which Scott Berg's book on Wilson, Doris Kearns Goodwin's book "On the Bully Pulpit' on Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, and Peter Baker's book on George W. Bush. That force feeding all at the same time was fascinating to look at the way three different presidents handled the job, the similarities in the job over that more than 100 year period.
DICKERSONHow things haven't changed, how they have changed, it was a great way to step out of the tiny, little, microscopic examinations we do of the current presidency and look at the office in a bigger way.
REHMJohn Dickerson of CBS and Slate. Susan Page of USA Today. Ari Shapiro, up until now he's been White House correspondent for NPR. Here's an email addressed to you from Bill in Flagler Beach, Fla. He says, you've been doing a great job reporting from the White House. You have special insight. There's no doubt we'll be getting excellent coverage from London. Best wishes for happiness in your new home.
SHAPIROI'm blushing. Thank you, Bill and Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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